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Cyclists trying to convince more women to become regular riders

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Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley,Gender Issues

Most of the bicyclists zipping along D.C. streets are men, and it's been that way for years. But cycling enthusiasts want to change that.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has raised $11,000 so far for a new program aimed at convincing more women to become frequent bikers.

"We were kind of sick of talking about [the gender gap], so that's why this program came to be," said Nelle Pierson, who's heading the program. "We wanted to start talking about solutions."

The program will include bike-themed dinner parties, group rides and other events targeted toward women, Pierson said.

About 77 percent of cyclists in D.C. last year were men. Only 23 percent were women. And District Department of Transportation statistics show that gap stretching back to 2005.

The most common reason women give for not biking more is safety.

"There are certain streets I won't go down or certain corners I won't go around because I know I'll get harassed," said Beth Scott, who started biking to work in Farragut Square from Columbia Heights about a year ago after she saw cyclists moving faster than her bus. "I just don't want to deal with it."

Other concerns cited by female riders include fear of fast-moving traffic, the cost of bike gear and the time commitment. Women juggling kids, diaper bags and groceries are not likely to be riding bikes either, cyclists said.

"For so many years, cycling has been marketed more to men," said Jordan Mittelman, general manager of BicycleSPACE in D.C. "Safety is a big concern. It mostly seems to be just the newness of it. They haven't had experience riding in the streets."

Shane Farthing, executive director of the bike association, said that's why cycling has to reach out to women more.

"We have to make sure we're not leaving folks behind," he said. "Sometimes it does take a little more targeted evangelism to certain groups."

Rebecca Mills, of Bloomingdale, rides regularly and would like to see more women doing the same.

"Since I've started using my bike as my main form of transportation, I feel like everything has improved, economically, physically," said Mills, who bikes daily to work near L'Enfant Plaza. "I wish more women would try it so they could get the same feeling. If I had to get on the Metro every day I would die."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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